Student petition calls for end of legacy admission at Georgetown

September 23, 2023

Credit to Elin Choe

More than three years ago, several students began circulating a petition calling for the end of legacy admissions. The authors cited several sources confirming the role of legacy admissions in historically discriminating against racial and religious minorities. The petition garnered only 517 of its goal of 1,000 signatures before it was sent to administrators in January 2022, but ultimately administrators did not meet with students or rethink preferential admissions.

But in light of the June Supreme Court decision declaring affirmative action unconstitutional, Georgetown University College Democrats (GUCD), after a conversation with the 2020 petitioners, authored a new petition calling for the end of legacy preference in admissions at Georgetown. The student-run organization originally sent a letter to Georgetown administrators in early August asking for a meeting regarding legacy preference but did not receive a response, according to several of the authors.

The petition calls on Georgetown to end the preference of legacy applicants in admissions, arguing that the practice disproportionately favors white and wealthy applicants and citing it as a factor inhibiting Georgetown, a primarily white institution, from admitting a more diverse applicant pool. 

Currently, nine percent of the class of 2024 are legacies, and 13 percent are first-generation students. Additionally, students of color are underrepresented from national demographics; Black and Latino students represent less than 15 percent of the student body

While the petition calls for the removal of preferential legacy status for those related to Georgetown-affiliated alumni, faculty, and staff, it makes a notable exception for descendants of the people Georgetown enslaved, who were granted preferential status following student protests, a sit-in, and a discussion with the Working Group on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation due to the reevaluation of two campus buildings being named after the Jesuits who organized the 1838 sale of 272 enslaved people to keep the university financially viable. 

“We continue to support preferential admission consideration for descendants of the GU272—the enslaved people owned by the Maryland Province of Jesuits—as a form of reconciliation,” the petition reads. 

This semester’s petition has garnered over 800 signatures from Georgetown community members, including students, alumni, and faculty. The Georgetown University South Asian Society (SAS), the Georgetown University Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), and the Georgetown University Asian American Student Association (AASA) originally cosponsored the document. As of Sept. 20, 23 additional student-run organizations have signed on. 

“We are optimistic and hopeful that the petition will create the kind of pressure on the administration to make them reconsider their policy, and we’re really excited by the amount of engagement we’ve seen around the petition,” Asher Maxwell (CAS ’26), the communications director for GUCD, said. 

While the authors of the GUCD petition were inspired by the 2020 petition, they counted on the strength of a club-led petition as opposed to one led by individual students. They believed a movement stemming from an organization with the infrastructure for activism could succeed where the 2020 petition did not. 

“When I talked to Asher, he said that he thought that there would be a stronger presence if it was formed around an organization and not from just one or two people,” Brandon Wu (SFS ’24), GUCD co-chair, told the Voice. A club’s foundation of support, including the ability to reserve spaces on campus and approach administrators with more legitimacy, has given the new petition an advantage, according to Wu. 

Although GUCD is a political organization, the board stressed that the petition is not. “This effort is apolitical,” Maxwell said. “This is really about making sure that Georgetown protects campus diversity and fairness of admissions.

GUCD’s Advocacy Director Ethan Henshaw (CAS ’26) said that the Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition has signed the petition and that GUCD has been communicating with the Georgetown University College Republicans. 

“This is definitely something that everyone should be able to come to agree to, that admissions should be more equitable, that it should be based on how hard you work, not your connections, your wealth,” Henshaw said.

Jessica Giles, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) DC, an anti-legacy admissions lobbying group, called for a response from Georgetown’s administration.

“[DFER] hope[s] that Georgetown University’s leadership listens to the hundreds of students who’ve signed the petition, as well as alumni and professors,” Giles said on a phone call with the Voice. She noted that Georgetown would be the first D.C. university to ban legacy admissions after the Supreme Court’s ruling. 

The sponsoring organizations plan to send the petition to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, the Office of Student Equity and Inclusion, and members of the administration like Vice President Joe Ferrara and University President John DeGioia, who expressed disappointment with the Supreme Court case ruling in a statement released by the university this summer.

In an interview with the Voice, DeGioia said the university’s best option for increasing diversity is class-conscious admissions. He also acknowledged the petition. “We will be engaging this question,” he said in an interview with the Hoya.

GUCD plans to formally deliver the petition to university administrators in the upcoming weeks. When asked by the Voice, GUCD did not share any concrete plans for further action, but Maxwell added that “by no means [will] our efforts end at the petition.”

Editor’s note: Brandon Wu is a staff writer for the Voice.

Ninabella Arlis
Ninabella is a sophomore studying International Business, Language, and Culture. Spot her working at the Center for Student Engagement or on the university's social medias!


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